Catching Up With Alvvays

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When we last spoke to Alvvays, it was in our “Best Of What’s Next” column in July 2014. The young Canadian jangly rock band were gaining steam on the heels of their single “Archie, Marry Me” and were about to drop their debut full-length, self-titled LP. They were contemplating quitting their jobs to pursue full-time band life and singer Molly Rankin had a humble goal to “just want to be in our van for a really long time and play often.”

Their music feels like it plays perfectly in a long van ride or cross-country road trip, although 15 months later, guitarist Alec O’Hanley admits “we’re doing more flights these days” in light of their festival performances. We met up with Rankin and O’Hanley just after the five-piece band’s main stage performance at Los Angeles’ FYF Festival to talk about Rankin’s Glastonbury Festival quasi-encounter with Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard (who, notably, has covered “Archie, Marry Me”), Alvvays’ Polaris Music Prize nomination and leaving the small Canadian island life behind for life as a band in the bright lights of Toronto.

Paste : How do you like playing festivals versus an intimate show? Is there one festival in particular that was really memorable?
Alec O’Hanley: Glastonbury was fun this summer. We hadn’t really played festivals before this year; this is our first kick of the can. You know, you hear about that one as a young Canadian kid. It was a ton of fun and sorta lived up to its billing.
Molly Rankin: Glastonbury is its own community really. People have been like living there for a week before we got there.

Paste : It’s kind of like Burning Man in that sense, but not as crazy or post-apocalyptic.
O’Hanley: That one’s not on the top on my bucket list, but I still appreciate that it exists.
Rankin: Is that the movie with Nic Cage? Burning Man?

Paste :: You mean Wicker Man? The one with the bees?
Rankin: Yeah! Ha! I’ve been hearing so much about Burning Man the past three days.

Paste : Are you guys excited for Morrissey’s headlining set tomorrow, or anyone else in particular?
Rankin: Well, we have to catch our flight before his set, but I’d love to see him. I’ve been wanting to see Melody’s Echo Chamber for a while, so I’d love to catch that set.
O’Hanley: Jesus and Mary Chain would be cool. They’re on our list for sure. And it’d be nice to see Kanye tonight again. He was playing Glastonbury the night we played…That was kind of a shit show. Brutal. The bad thing about Glastonbury was the stupid petition they had. He’s one of the most relevant artists on Earth right now. How can you possibly justify a petition other than like…thinly veiled racism. We weren’t down with that.

Paste :: So the last time you guys spoke with Paste, you said: “We just want to be in our van for a really long time and play often.” That’s what you left us with 15 months ago, so how does that life suit you now?
O’Hanley: It was a pretty modest goal. We’re doing more flying these days. This summer is in and out of cities we’ve never been to. [turns to Molly] Where were we last week? Omaha, Nebraska?
Rankin: It’s crazy. The festival season is really fun, more so than driving in a van. But if we got a new van…we might be on the road more. We have an Econoline now.

Paste :: At least there’s only five of you.
Rankin: We start to look at each other like “How necessary are you?” [laughs] Can we fill you out with something…”
O’Hanley: I’ve seen that look in your eye before and now I know what that is!

Paste : You’ve evolved a lot as a band over the last year. Have you all indeed quit your jobs now? I heard you worked at a smoothie bar, Molly?
Rankin: I really did, not anymore, but I worked at a pizza place for a long time too and I was literally scrubbing toilets the week our record came out. And then we went on tour and I never really went back. ‘Cause everything kinda grew when we were away and then we came back and I was like “Oh god, I don’t think I could go back!”
O’Hanley: To picking up the toilet brush again?
Rankin: I’d rather just starve in privacy.
O’Hanley: When you’re hunched over a toilet and someone recognizes you—‘cause it’s a really small neighborhood that we live in in Toronto—that would be an awkward moment if we were like mopping up people’s poop.
Rankin: I remember one time, I cleaned the sink behind the bar and a pipe had exploded and they were like, “Molly, get over here and take this wrench and try to fix it!” All this weird water was coming out of it and Feist was sitting across from me and I was like “Hey…what’s up?” [laughs]

Paste : Did you say Feist?
Rankin: Yeah…A bunch of people that were with her I knew—I don’t particularly know her—and I was like, “Hey guys, I just got this bucket of sludge here, I’ll come say hi in like 10 minutes!”

Paste : You’ve come a long way in a short time.
O’Hanley: Well, we all still have our jobs pretty much other than Molly. I’m still at the guitar store, Kerri still babysitting, doing her thing.

Paste : So are you guys happy with the grind then?
Rankin: Yeah…I’m anxious to record other things. But I understand that we haven’t been to a lot of parts of the world yet. We still have to keep touring this record and we still like touring it. But I’m excited to have more time at home to write and record. It’ll happen soon. When the record first came out, we were asked to open for some band in San Francisco and we didn’t really want to do it. But by the time everything had sort of picked up a little bit, we had our own show and it was sold out. Our minds are blown, so we have no complaints. It’s really fun and we don’t hate each other, yet. Which is beautiful.

Paste : So the album was in the top five of our Best Albums of 2014 and now it’s up for the Polaris Music Prize on the short list. How does it feel to be in the company of other great Canadian artists like Caribou and Drake?
Rankin: Well we won’t be in his [Drake’s] company, I’m sure he won’t be present.
O’Hanley: They hopefully nominate him every year, like “please show up!”
Rankin: He’s like seen at a bar in downtown Toronto right next to the ceremony with his friends, no idea it’s going on!
O’Hanley: It’s cool though. Dan Snaith [Caribou]—I think it’s his third time—he won once. He’s a genius. It turns us on to records that’ve sorta flown beneath our gaze too. Like that Tobias Jesso Jr. record that we were pretty late coming onto.
Rankin: We were debating to see if we should brave the rush hour to the airport and see his set early tomorrow [at FYF Festival].
O’Hanley: We’re off to Toronto tomorrow, in and out, and then we’re off to the U.K. for three weeks.
Rankin: We’ve done fewer shows in Canada than we have in the U.K. I think. Now we get to the U.K., in like Nottingham and we’re like “Yeah, we’re home!”

Paste : Are you guys happy to go back and tour in Canada?
O’Hanley: It’ll be cool, but we’re not getting to our homes in Cape Breton or Prince Edward Island [PEI]. We had a PEI show before, but we’re happy to get to Halifax. The girls lived in Halifax at one point and we’re all in Toronto now.

Paste : So on the album, “Archie, Marry Me” was a total hit. Do you think that people miss the beauty of the whole album because that single might’ve defined you guys?
Rankin: I don’t think we have the rotten thing of watching everyone walk away at festivals after we play that song. ‘Cause we see that and it makes me really sad. But that doesn’t happen to us often. I feel like when I see that people know us and the whole record…it’s really cute, ‘cause it’s a really short record.
O’Hanley: And in the grand scheme of hits, it’s a pretty modest hit [chuckles] It’s not like “Maneater” or whatever.

Paste :: What about when Ben Gibbard did a cover of “Archie, Marry Me”...Did you know that was going to happen?
O’Hanley: It was pretty out of the blue and our 16-year-old selves were just withering inside with delight.
Rankin: It was so cute, he was at our set at Glastonbury, I turned around and was yelling at the monitor guy and I caught eyes with Ben and I thought, “Oh shit…maybe I shouldn’t be a total bitch right now!”

Paste : So as for a new album. I figure you guys are jumping back in the studio next year sometime?
O’Hanley: We’re already sort of back in the studio. We found the tape machine that we did the first record on. And that’s in our basement now and we’ve been recording in Toronto sporadically and trying to exercise those muscles again. So this week we were doing some tracking and mixing and stuff.

Paste : So you did what you said you wanted to do a year ago…the proverbial “riding in the van and touring a lot.” Broadly speaking, what’s the next goal?
O’Hanley: Do it again…like our rocket to Russia. Do it again, but better.
Rankin: That’s exactly what I’m thinking, do it better and maybe much better!
O’Hanley: I don’t like when bands change enormously on their second record. When I like a band, I feel like that band shouldn’t change everything it is about them that endears themselves to a fan. So…I hope we don’t go off the deep end, but we might dip our toes in that water.